Swiss village mourns loss of ‘kind bear’ Godard

Swiss director Jean Luc Godard (R) smiles as he stands with actress Cecile Camp (L) for their film ‘Eloge de L’Amour’ at the 54th International Cannes Film Festival, on 15 May, 2001

As news of French cinema great Jean-Luc Godard’s death reverberated around the world, residents in the small Swiss village where he lived reminisced about a discreet but always kind neighbour.

“I just heard the news. I am really upset,” said Sylvie Mezzena, who lived around the corner from Godard in Rolle.

The French film legend had lived in the tiny village of just over 6,000 people on the shores of Lake Geneva for decades.

On Tuesday, Agnes Montavon, 62, stood outside his green-shuttered house, which appeared closed and empty but had flowers hanging from the door handle.

Montavon recalled how her “heart beat a bit faster” every time she ran into him. “His death has really touched me,” she told AFP.

A few streets away, where Godard’s wife Anne-Marie Mieville has a separate house, a black van arrived around midday (1000 GMT) Tuesday, and men went in carrying a stretcher.

Flowers are pictured in front of film director Jean-Luc Godard’s house in Rolle, Switzerland, on 13 September, 2022

Visibly upset, Mieville refused to speak with the journalists who began gathering outside as the news of Godard’s death spread.

But in the town, many were eager to share their personal memories of the legendary maverick and father of the French New Wave.

‘Kind and generous’

He was well-known in Rolle, where he would take daily walks to pick up his papers and visit cafes.

Christina Novais, a waitress at the Wolfisberg cafe, said she served him coffee every day for years.

“Every morning, he had his small ristretto with a glass of water. Every morning, and sometimes he came in twice a day,” she said, remembering him as “kind and generous”.

Mezzena, a 50-year-old social science researcher, told AFP she had been acquainted with the legendary filmmaker for 15 years, most often running into him at the cafes where they both preferred to work.

“He was a hard worker,” she said, recalling how he often sat until the late evening with colleagues, discussing costumes and makeup.

“He was always out in the world. He didn’t stay home much,” she said, describing him as “very human, and so nice”.

Mezzena laughed recalling how Godard sometimes seemed more interested in saying hello to dogs than to people.

“He loved animals, he was just so kind, and so sweet,” she said, adding that the people of Rolle had always been very protective of him, refusing to tell the journalists often sniffing around where to find the renowned recluse.

Like most people here, Mezzena describes Godard as “discreet”.

“He was really a bear, but a kind bear,” she said.

‘Big heart’

Gino Siconolfi, a taxi driver who often served as Godard’s chauffeur over the past 20 years, agreed.

“He was a bit wild,” the 57-year-old said, “but someone with a big heart”.

Siconolfi said that Godard sometimes preferred to sit in silence for an entire trip, but at other times “he told me his whole life.”

“I drove him for 20 years. I knew him well,” he said.

Siconolfi even played a role in Godard’s 2014 film “Goodbye to Language”.

They “needed a driver and a car, and asked if I wanted to be in the movie, and I said yes,” he said.

But he acknowledges he was not much of a fan of Godard’s movies, which he said he found “kind of odd”.

Mezzena, however, was a fan, saying she found his immense work ethic “very impressive”.

“He was working hard up until recently,” she said, adding though that she had noticed him going out less in recent months and rarely leaving Rolle, which “became a bit of a cocoon”.

The town, she said, would not be the same now that Godard is gone.

“He was really part of the scenery... I think it will be very strange” without him.